Fargo and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!,
and a few more films

The Fantasist (1986)
Streaming free at Tubi

#264  [archive]
MAR. 21, 2024

From Robin Hardy, the director of the classic Wicker Man, this is a thriller that has it way with women, via a psychopathic killer who makes obscene calls before his murders, blah blah blah. Everyone's a plausible suspect, there are red herrings galore, and I wasn't sure who the killer was.

Didn't much care who the killer was, though. Even with Hardy's name on it, I wouldn't have watched this if I'd known it was a psychopathic killer movie. I've come to abhor the whole genre. It sucks that 'women in peril' is a day-to-day fact of life, and it's never the entertainment I'm looking for, ever.

The Fantasist is a bit better than just another slasher movie, and it's helped along by Irish locations and Timothy Bottoms, but it's not enough better than average to earn a recommendation.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Fantasticks (2000)
Streaming free at Tubi

Before watching this, I knew only two things about The Fantasticks: it's the longest-running play in the history of plays, and the showstopping tune is "Try to Remember (the kind of September)."

But I didn't know that the play had been turned into a movie, and that's odd. If someone who likes musicals and movies — me! — doesn't know your huge hit musical was made into a movie, it's probably means the movie is sucky.

And indeed, The Fantasticks is far from fantastic.

Two farm houses are next door to each other. In one house there's a single man with a grown daughter, Luisa (Jean Louisa Kelly, from Uncle Buck), and in the other house there's a single man with a grown son, Matt (Joe McIntyre, from New Kids on the Block). The dads are best buddies but pretend to be feuding, a ruse to trick Luisa and Matt into dating, because romance would never occur to a man and woman who grew up next door to each other and have, apparently, no other friends, neighbors, or acquaintances.

As part of their wily scheme, the dads hire a showman from a traveling carnival to kidnap Luisa, so Matt can come to her rescue. Luisa becomes infatuated with the carnival man, and there's briefly the possibility that she might run away with him so the story could gain a few ounces of heft. Which doesn't happen; no surprises here. The story must go exactly where you'd guess. 

It's musical comedy, so nobody expects gritty realism, but if the plot is this stupid, why bother having a plot at all? Just sing some songs, fer cripes' sake.

And sing they do, about a dozen forgettable tunes with little to no melodies, and then, "Try to Remember," in the show's final two minutes.

As for comedy, there is none.

Again, I like musicals, so I am flummoxed, but why "Try to Remember" when everything is so forgettable?

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Fantasy Mission Force (1983)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

This is nominally a World War II flick, with American, British, and other military leaders being held prisoner by the Japanese, but the action is mixed with Benny Hill-level gags, a haunted house, Chinese Scottish soldiers wearing kilts, a heavy drinking contest à la Raiders of the Lost Ark, and music pirated from American movies.

'Jacky Chan' gets top billing, but he's only in this for about twenty minutes total. The entire movie is incoherent like being drunk and high at the same time, but it's strange and crazy, and the comedy probably lost a lot in the English-language dubbing. 

Verdict: YES, I guess, especially if you're drunk and high.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Far From Home (1989)
Streaming free at YouTube

Drew Barrymore as jailbait seems to be the movie's intent. She's 13, never wearing much clothes, and repeatedly imperiled by a Charlie Sheen clone. She is cute, though, so arrest me. 

Matt Frewer plays her father, Cruella de Vil runs the trailer park, Richard Masur (One Day at a Time) is the hippie who's beyond money but good with guns, Anthony Rapp (Dazed and Confused) has a cool squat in an abandoned building, Karen Austin and Jennifer Tilly share a trailer, and ever-sneering Dick Miller is the sheriff.

There are enough interesting characters here to make a much better movie, but a serial killer is on the loose, which makes Far From Home ordinary. 

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Fargo (1995)

"This is a true story," we're told at the top, but of course that's a lie.

William H Macy is a car salesman desperate for cash, Frances McDormand is the pregnant small-town police chief investigating a triple homicide, and Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare are a pair of lowlife criminals.

It's a straightforward swindle that goes wrong in every possible way, with violence and mistakes and the wisecracks real people might make in such situations.

"I guess you think you're an authority figure, with that stupid fucking uniform, eh buddy? Clip-on tie there, big fucking man. You know, these are the limits of your life, man. Here's your four dollars, you pathetic piece of shit."

Fargo is a black comedy set against a snowy white backdrop, and McDormand makes everything click from her first "Ah, jeez." 

What I love about Joel and Ethan Coen, and specifically Fargo, is that it's full of people who aren't stupid. Maybe they're not Einsteins, but everyone, even the guy at the woodchipper, has an intelligent reason for what they're doing. Nobody's dumb as a plot device, and everything everyone does and says is understandable, relatable. Real. It's not a true story but it could be, and you or I could be anybody here.

The Coen brothers grew up in Minnesota, and make the movie feel authentically midwestern. And jeez, I can vouch for it, having lived some years in Wisconsin, a few hours away. Fargo captures the snowscapes as more than just scenic white parking lots, but someplace where every footstep is a crunch. 

There needs to be a special Oscar for whoever did the vocal coaching, because all the actors playing locals got the Minnesota accent right. Even the characters who appear in only one scene, offering one clue to the cops or one moment with the bad guys, seem like people you'd meet in Minnesota, Wisconsin, or North Dakota. 

"Well, I'm not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work, there, Lou."

Fargo comes close to perfection, and I have no criticisms or complaints. Every scene either adds to the story, or adds to the laughs, or adds to the characterizations, and most scenes do all three. It's a comfortable, familiar genre piece, yet utterly original, impossibly well-written and performed, directed so well you'd never notice, beautifully photographed by Roger Deakins, impeccably scored by Carter Burwell.

This is one of those movies so good, I'm always up for a re-watch.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Faster, Pussycat!
Kill! Kill!
Streaming free at Daily Motion

Varla, Billie, and Rosie are go-go dancers by night, but by day they're on a mission to make trouble. One Asian, one Hispanic, one blonde, they're hot women with big boobs, driving hot cars with shiny chassis.

"My motor never runs down, baby."

Once in a while, mainstream Hollywood tries to make a female-centric action movie — Wonder Woman or Charlie's Angels, Cutthroat Island or Gunpowder Milkshake — but nobody's ever done it as well as Russ Meyer. He had a legendary feel for bosoms, and when there's a battle of the sexes it is literal and to the death, but all boob jokes aside, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! aces the Bechdel test. Maybe Meyer was a feminist with a mammary obsession.

This is his best film. It has little depth, we're never given a hint at what motivates these women, and unlike most of Meyer's oeuvre, there's no toplessness. What it's got, though, is laughs, action, and acres of cleavage. As always, Meyers' photography is quite good, and the dialogue is 88% camp.

"Women! They let 'em vote, smoke, and drive — even put 'em in pants!"

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is about hella strong women who never wait around to be rescued by men, and never scream and cower in the corner while the men fight.

Verdict: YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •     

Fast-Walking (1981)
Fear of a Black Hat
Fiend Without a Face

... plus schlock, shorts, and surprises

— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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  1. I watched Fargo a few years back, loved it from beginning to end. Just watched it again a coupla weeks ago...and loved it even more. Superb acting, every single one of 'em. The pathetic scene of the Asian fellow trying to hook up with his high school crush, police chief (Frances McDormand) was pure, unadulterated cringe. And I drank it all up.

    1. I wonder if there was talk of editing that scene out, and the phone call that sets it up. It's not necessary for the story, just adds depth and cringe, but like you I love it.


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